Posted by: westlancashirerecord | May 11, 2016

Church Seeks To Protect Tenants In Face Of Seismic Testing

churchcoms

Sir,
The gas and oil exploration company Aurora (The Champion, May 4) is planning geophysical surveys near Ormskirk. Two years ago, they made an approach to carry out such seismic testing on the Church Commissioners’ Halsall estate and, last year, referred the application to the Secretary of State, who can refer the matter to the High Court.

To be clear, the Church Commissioners never asked for this approach, have not sought this survey and will not receive financial benefit if it is carried out. What we have sought is protection for our tenants.

The regulatory framework for these applications is weighted in favour of the company applying, and landowners who withhold consent risk being ordered to allow access by the High Court.

As responsible landowners, we entered into negotiations with Aurora, which are now at an advanced stage, to reach an agreement that provides full protections and indemnities for our tenants and us, while allowing that access. A geophysical survey does not create a presumption of later test drilling or extraction and the agreement we are negotiating covers seismic testing only.

The Church of England has no official policy either for or against shale gas exploration in the UK by means of hydraulic fracturing (known as ‘fracking’). The Church Commissioners’ policy on climate change notes that, while shale gas may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions if used for power generation instead of coal as part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, other issues such as environmental impacts and the effect on local communities also have to be taken into account.

Experience of this legal framework raises wider concerns for landowners and local communities that go beyond an individual case.

Once the government grants a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL), there is no requirement for companies to communicate or consult with communities. Nor are exploration companies required to consult with local residents or elected representatives before applying to the Secretary of State.

This is in stark contrast to the regime for, say, onshore wind, where local government and communities are, rightly, involved from the start. It is inequitable to have different regimes for different energy sources, and to privilege fossil fuel based energy over renewable energy given the urgent need to transition to a low carbon economy.

Yours sincerely

Edward Mason
Head of Responsible Investment
Church Commissioners for England


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